The Soil Association are using the catchy title ''tis the season to be organic' and have a nice selection of organic products on their website. It got me thinking about why we give presents at this time of year and to whom the giving should ultimately be addressed.
It's a lovely gesture to give a gift, but so many of us are actually overburdened with possessions. Yet another gift is often an embarrassment. Life's greatest pleasures like a beautiful sunset, growing your own, being creative or enjoying the company of friends are free. It is those pleasures that are precious.
The Soil Association makes a good point in the Christmas advert. It's not we who need gifts but the planet. And in 'gifting' the environment we actually ensure that we, as well as those who follow us, will also be able to enjoy the bounty of the earth.
With that in mind I've selected a number of Christmas presents for veg gardeners and environmentalists that are light on resources, but will improve quality of life for the recipient without 'costing the earth'.
In this world of internet and tablets you might be surprised that my first suggestion uses paper - a precious resource in itself. But digital information soon tarnished. We lose the gear to read it on, we lose the software. So a digital book is too ephemeral for me. A real book can be a companion. It can be passed onto others. It can be borrowed. It will endure.
The book I'm recommending looks beautiful and will spur the recipient on to take advantage of the edible bounty that abounds in our parks and waste ground. The Edible City, by John Rensten is not only a very comprehensive book about foraging, the illustrations are delightful. My definition of a work of art is that it changes you in some way - for the better. This book will change the way your recipient sees their environment. If they take to foraging they will be enriching their diet as they save money.
I'm really interested in cultivating edible weeds in the rooftopvegplot. So this book definitely sits on my Christmas list.
THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY
We must learn to better harness science for good rather that manufacturing gain. Most research is funded by governments for defense or by big business to further their own ends. Medical research is far too cosily aligned to big pharmaceutical companies and the nastier side of the food industry.
Perhaps that is why research has been able to find little difference between organic and supermarket produce. Though these days the links between the organophosphates from artificial fertilizers and conditions like ADHD and dementure are becoming too obvious for even the most mainstream producers to ignore. But in looking at vitamin and mineral content many believe that we've been looking in the wrong place for organic food benefits. The real boon for growing your own and eating fresh untainted crops is that you will be ingesting a fine selection of healthy bacteria that can colonise the gut. Ask the brain scientist Susan Greenfield. In her new book, A Day in the Life of the Brain she argues that gut bacteria have an influence on our hormonal secretions and send messages direct to the brain. That old term gut feeling has now been proved to have some real foundation. Gut bacteria can influence our sex lives, our appetites and our mood as well as protecting us from disease by boosting our immune system.
So new ways of funding medical research are needed. Greenfield is using independent funding for her groundbreaking work. This gift enrols the loved one of your choice in a scientific experiment about gut microbes. It wouldn't get mainstream funding because it won't lead to the invention or discovery of new drugs. In fact it may well lead to the realisation that some drugs are unnecessary and some disease can be resolved simply by changing our diets. The international microbial research is likely to lead us to the conclusion that diverse, organic, fresh, wholesome foods are far better for us.
I want my tiny harvest of organic vegetables to be really valued by my family. So with this gift they will learn something new about themselves, as well as contributing to science. British Gut is funded by open source crowd funding and run by The Department of Twin Research at King’s College London in conjunction with The American Gut project. The project is led by our old friend Tim Spector. The aim is to uncover the microbial content within the guts of British individuals.
In return for a contribution to the project of £75 for one person or £210 for a family of four, you too can be enrolled. Then you send them a sample of your poo and they analyse it. The research gets to find out how our lifestyle choices and diet influence our microbiome (the colony of friendly bacteria in our gut). Each participant receives a read-out from the samples by which you can tell how healthy and varied your own gut colony is. With so much in the news at the moment surrounding the influence of gut bacteria on anything from Parkinson's to depression, don't you owe it to your loved ones?
I always think that a homemade gift is worth a thousand shop-bought items. This year I'm knitting hats. I bought the pattern years ago in Stockholm and only recently managed to translate the instructions. The original company has disappeared, so I'm sure they won't mind me sharing it with you. This pattern is quick to knit up and has the added benefit of using left over scraps of wool. So burrow down into the knitting bag and see what you can find. This is not only a very chic pattern, but the multiple strands trap warm air, making it toasty warm for the most hardened allotmenteer. Link to pattern.
SHAKE A LEG
Rather than give a thing, why not give time? My suggestion is to offer to walk with a friend. I have enjoyed several strong friendships in my life that were based on walking and talking. It's a great way to test out ideas, giving time and space for a long discussion, deeper thoughts as well as doing the body a bit of good along the way.
I recently blogged about Abigail Willis's book The London Garden Book. This is a list of gardens to visit in London and would make an excellent basis for some lovely walks. Your gift of a walk could be accompanied by a map of the suggested route, or some souvenir of the goal. The walk can be arduous, exotic or long. Similarly it can be short, simple and easy going.
HEAR WITH NEW EARS
The breakthrough in internet radio stations has spawned a myriad of excellent foreign programmes that are as accessible as our own beloved BBC. There's a delightful app called the Radio Garden, that gives access to radio stations all over the world. It's unique attribute is an interactive map that locates all the stations geographically. Barring linguistic barriers, I hold the view that the more we listen to people from other nations, the more we will be able to understand them. While I write this I'm listening to Radio Switzerland's classical station. It's wall to wall music, unsullied by pesky interventions like announcements, news broadcasts or advertisements. It not only delivers delightful music, but reminds me how civilised are some of our European neighbours. Even listening over headphones, with my iPhone tucked into my jeans, this is an excellent accompaniment to mindful gardening. It costs nothing and doesn't need wrapped up. So perhaps it's a gift to give yourself.